COVID-19: Impact on court hearings and successful virtual mediations

20 March 2020. Published by David Cran, Partner, Head of IP & Tech and Geraldine Elliott, Partner

As anticipated, the Courts are now moving to a (mainly) remote working basis.

This was announced yesterday by the Lord Chief Justice in a message to judges in the civil and family courts,  crucially saying that "the default position now, in all jurisdictions, must be that hearings should be conducted with one or more than one or all participants attending remotely".  

The Business and Property Courts have updated their protocol for remote hearings and the judiciary are acting quickly; Mr Justice Teare has very recently refused a request for an adjournment of a trial saying that "it is the duty of all parties to seek to co-operate to ensure that a remote hearing is possible". The court is also working more flexibly to keep the wheels of justice turning; we secured a sealed consent order from the court at 8.30 last night, in relation to a hearing due to take place this morning

There will inevitably be some backlogs and listing issues as the Courts attempt to transition. There will also be some categories of work that will take priority, and there is some commentary on certain litigants in person and whether telephone hearings will work for them. In practice, we are already seeing Court deadlines being extended and some hearings being adjourned by agreement.

Having said that, RPC has participated in (and achieved a settlement at) a virtual mediation this week, where all of the parties and the mediator attended by video conferencing (complete with plenary/group sessions, private rooms, separate discussions with the mediator, etc) – so the technology solutions may well provide the answer in these challenging times. 

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